He was a celebrity at Guantanamo, a teenaged inmate who spoke at least four languages, knew the Quran by heart and said he was hungry for knowledge.
Toronto-born Omar Khadr, released Saturday from the U.S. prison for terror suspects and transferred back to Canada, looked almost-baby faced at 15, the age at which he was fighting for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Badly wounded and captured in a U.S. air and ground attack in 2002, he would spend much of adolescence behind bars in the notorious American detention facility in Cuba.
These days he is a tall, bushy-bearded man of 26 with a scarred face and a bright smile.
Khadr was sent back to Canada under a much-delayed 2010 deal between the United States and Canada in which he pleaded guilty to five war crimes, including throwing a grenade that claimed the life of a U.S. soldier.
He had to spend one more year in Guantanamo, and last year became eligible for the transfer to complete the rest of an eight-year sentence.
At Guantanamo Bay, Khadr -- who did not go past fourth grade in school -- stood out not just because he was the youngest prisoner ever sent there but because at the time of his capture he spoke English, Arabic, Pashtun and Dari, and a bit of French.
Fellow inmates would ask them to lead them at prayer time, as he had memorized the Muslim holy book.
“He is Guantanamo’s rock star,” one prosecution witness at his trial stated.
Khadr himself said at the trial that he was eager for knowledge and said he would like to become a doctor. One of his lawyers, Dennis Edney, called him a “gentle giant.”
But prosecutors described him instead as daddy’s favorite in a Muslim family turned extremist.
Khadr’s father, Ahmed Said Khadr, an Egyptian-born Canadian, was considered an influential member of al-Qaeda. He was killed in Pakistan in 2003.
The family had first moved from Canada to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area in 1990 to help with reconstruction after the withdrawal of Soviet forces, according to an online family biography
Omar Khadr returned to Canada in 1995 after his father was arrested in Pakistan in connection with an attack on the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad.
A year later the young Khadr was back in Pakistan, and after returning to Canada a few months before the September 11, 2000 terror attacks in the United States, turned up again in Afghanistan.
The U.S. military and the Canadian government say he reported to an al-Qaeda training camp to learn how to make bombs. In pre-trial hearings, prosecutors showed video of the young Khadr, sitting cross-legged on the ground and smiling as he fashioned explosive devices.
When U.S. Special Forces captured him in a house in the village of Khost in July 2002, Khadr was in bad shape. Two bullets had hit him in the back and pierced his body. He also took a bullet in the left eye, losing its use.
After undergoing surgery several times he was transferred first to the US air base at Bagram, then on to Guantanamo.
Khadr says he was mistreated at the prison. Photos of him in 2008 made the front page around the world: with tears in his eyes while being interrogated by Canadian intelligence agents, he begged them to get him out Guantanamo.